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If You've Tried to Hide Your Diabetes Supplies, You Might Relate to James Norton's Tricks

Diabetes is often thought of as an “invisible” disease since you can’t tell just by looking at someone if they have diabetes. On the other hand, diabetes management requires so many supplies and pieces of equipment that it may not always feel quite so invisible. People with diabetes are pros at figuring out the best ways to discreetly manage their blood sugar, including British actor James Norton. You might relate to the creative strategies he uses when he doesn’t want to draw attention to his diabetes.

The actor, who has appeared in TV series including “Grantchester,” “McMafia” and the BBC’s adaptation of “War & Peace,” revealed in an appearance at the Talking About Diabetes conference in London that he has found ways to work around his type 1 diabetes since his diagnosis at age 22.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to allow sugar to enter cells to produce energy. People living with the condition must constantly monitor their blood sugar levels and inject insulin or consume sugar to prevent blood sugar from going dangerously low or high. Norton said being in a play is complicated because he might be onstage for an hour and a half and need to treat low blood sugar during that time. If it’s a period drama, he’ll ask the costume designers to create a hidden pocket where he can stash some sugar tablets.

“If I start to feel shaky, I’ll improvise: I’ll wander upstage, throw three dextrose tablets in my mouth and then carry on with the scene,” Norton said, according to the Daily Mail. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve done that.”

He uses a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which utilizes a small sensor inserted underneath the skin to measure glucose levels and transmit the data to a receiver or smartphone. Normally, the device is attached to his chest, but if he’s doing a scene that requires him to take off his shirt, he said he moves it to a more “hidden” location.

“On days when I need to bare my torso, I attach it to one of my buttocks,” he said.

Norton said his acting career led him to opt not to use an insulin pump, and instead inject insulin himself. He injects about 15 times a day.

“As an actor, I’m constantly changing costumes. Sometimes I have to do a scene naked, with my top off, or wearing tight clothes,” he said. “I don’t want to be attached to two pieces of equipment.”

He’s had a lot of support managing his diabetes — both his mom and younger sister, Jessie, also have type 1 diabetes. Since Jessie was diagnosed at 9 years old, he was already accustomed to helping her with her diabetes when he got his diagnosis.

“It was traumatic because I’m a terrible hypochondriac anyway,” Norton said. “But it was also manageable because I had the best role model in my sister, who was training to be a doctor. I called her so many times, worrying about things, which was strange, because I’d always been the protective older brother, keeping an eye on Jessie at parties.”

“As a family, we’re so relaxed about our diabetes,” he added. “My mum has had to bring needles to film sets because I sometimes forget. We don’t think of ourselves as a ‘diabetic family.’ We’re just three type 1’s getting on with it.”

He spoke strongly about the need for diabetes technology to be available to everyone (the National Health Service does not cover CGMs for all people with diabetes) and said diabetes has given him “extraordinary” empathy for anyone going through something that makes them “different.”

“That empathy extends to everyone — epileptics, celiacs, diabetics — anyone who has something that makes them a little bit different,” he said. “It’s a lovely, empowering thing.”

Diabetes requires so much care that most people have no idea about — which may lead you to do things no one sees in order to manage your blood sugar. We asked our Mighty community to share something people don’t realize they’re doing because of their diabetes. You might relate to what they shared.

For more insight into the diabetes experience, written by people who have been there, check out these stories:

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Punting Cambridge